This Ramadan, fasting Arabs were warned against overeating. But this didn’t stop hundreds of Qataris being hospitalised after doing exactly that. In fact, overeating is not confined to this month but is a chronic problem for the Middle East.
Egypt comes fifth on the list of the top ten of the world’s most obese nations, according to research compiled from UN and World Health Organisation data. Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates also feature on the list, beaten only by the US, which of course takes the number one spot.
The conclusion of the report: “Increasing population fatness could have the same implications for world food energy demands as an extra half a billion people living on the earth”.
On average, an Egyptian family spends 40% of its income on food and beverages, while annual expenditure on education is just 3.9%, Egyptian government statistics show. Last year, Egyptians spent close to 8 billion Egyptian pounds on salty snacks, treats and sweets. Egypt even has it’s own line-up of speciality obesity doctors that perform life-saving surgery, like Dr Khaled Gawdat, who pioneered morbid obesity surgery in Egypt in 1996.
Widening waistlines are a scary prospect when when food and oil prices are on the rise, impacting Egypt’s ability to pay for crucial wheat and petroleum imports (Egypt is the biggest net importer of wheat, and has increasingly relied on petroleum imports to meet energy subsidy demands in domestic and corporate markets).
[caption id="attachment_149" align="aligncenter" width="614"] World Health Organisation, 2011: The darkest red areas on the map (Pacific islands) represent obesity rates of 40% or more. The next darkest areas (US, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Panama, and United Arab Emirates) represent obesity rates of 30-40%. Progressively lighter colors represent 20-30% obesity rates, 10-20% obesity rates, 5-10% obesity rates, and 0-5% obesity rates. The grey areas are not represented on the scale.[/caption]
Doctors have routinely linked poverty and lack of education in developing countries to high obesity levels. But Egypt’s scenario could be more frightening. Could a food subsidy system that swallows about $5.5 billion of the government’s budget be breeding a climate of heavy dependance on cheap, filling subsidised bread that costs just 4 cents a loaf? Vegetable, milk and dairy prices are rising every month tempting consumers to fat-filled salty snacks and treats.